THE ETHICS OF A.I. by Heidi J. Hewett

THE ETHICS OF A.I. by Heidi J. Hewett


People have been making tools since the early Stone Age to help us do things. Sometimes we build things just to see if we can. Artificial Intelligence straddles both. I think that’s part of what makes the question of the ethics of A.I. so thorny. Does it even make sense to create something with a sense of ‘self’ and expect it to act in a selfless way?

Many of the movies and literature on A.I. is dystopic, playing on fears of a hostile takeover in which humans are controlled by technology. I personally find this unlikely, mainly because I think these stories inject malevolence into the A.I., although there is no doubt A.I. can function in destructive ways, such as the infamous Microsoft chatbot, Tay, in 2016, which had to be taken down within hours.


I worry about what it does to our humanity when we interact with something that sounds or looks, or acts, human, and treat it as a machine. Even if a machine is incapable of experiencing pain, if we voluntarily choose to inflict pain or the semblance of pain, I think that warps us. I also wonder about how we’ll treat other people if we become used to treating things that look like people as things.


And there is a question of ethics, assuming strong A.I. is possible. Is a machine an individual? Does it have rights? Does it exist in some sense for itself, or is it simply a tool? That’s really the central question of my novel. For Asimov, the first rule of robotics was that a robot could not injure or allow a human being to be harmed, but could a machine be worth dying to protect?

In the end, for me, it’s about rethinking our relationship: past the old Star Wars model where men are pitted against machines, beyond the competition for survival in ‘A.I. takeover’ stories like Terminator, Robopocalypse, and The Matrix. I’d like to see us abandon biomimetic attempts to create ‘lifelike’ robots and work toward a symbiotic relationship in which robots are working in partnership, the way they’re currently used by surgeons, or in deep-sea exploration or outer space. That’s my hope for the future.


You can download a sample chapter of LEXI, and find character & setting pics at


ST:TNG episode “The Measure of a Man” weighs the question of whether Data is a person or property.

LEXI by Heidi J. Hewett

Christmas 2050. A rogue A.I. supercomputer, Chinese tech spies, and a sexy robot who plays the ukulele set young engineer John Michael on an adventure from the glittering big city to the last outpost of human habitation. As time runs out, he must make a choice that will determine his own future: hand Lexi over for reprogramming, or help her escape from the people who bought her. Could he really be falling for a machine?



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